Hero Image

Stylistics | Collocations

Stylistics is a form of literary and linguistic criticism. Unlike other critics, those who examine style feel emboldened by the concrete nature of their area of expertise. Stylists are able to point to highly specific elements of written material in a way that approaches the objectivity of the physical sciences.

For instance: Have you ever wondered why we say certain words together? Stylistics has a name for such combinations, “collocation.” Some words just can’t do without each other, for some reason. English speakers rarely say “large business”; they say “big business.” And not much goes with “boggles” except “the mind.” Authors can alter these collocations as a means of surprise and incongruity—consider the expression “damp souls.”

We are not used to souls being “damp.” But perhaps they can be in some sense! If we come to understand how a soul can be damp, we have gained knowledge of an otherwise unknown phenomenon in an explainable way. An author made us see it.

Collocation can occur at higher levels of meaning anytime a writer creates a sense of surprise at words that are forced together with little sense of connection—an intentional destruction of the principle of cohesion. Modern writers sometimes, perhaps often, say surprising things that seem inexplicable. But through stylistics, we come to comprehend life in a new way.

A major implication of stylistics is the possibility of creating a formula for describing the exact nature of a great piece of writing as opposed to a poor piece of writing. That is the holy grail of literary studies.

Here at Southern, great professors will help you understand the fundamental elements of style. As a result, perhaps you too can become a writer with your own special style that will attract the readers of tomorrow.